Gist hopes to solve your e-mail overload woes

Got too much e-mail floating around? Most of us do. A service called Gist is attempting to make it easier to sort through the people sending it your way.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
2 min read

Over the past few days, I've been using an upcoming e-mail helper called Gist.

Similar to Xobni (coverage) Gist is all about piggybacking on the e-mail systems you're already using to unearth information that's often tucked away. This includes the relationships you have with people you're e-mailing--both professionally and in your personal life.

The big difference is that Gist makes URLs, attachments, and conversation threads easier to get at. And instead of being relegated to Microsoft Outlook, like Xobni is, Gist works with Web mail too.

The service can tap into both Gmail and Outlook, as well as your LinkedIn account. In Gmail's case, this analysis requires giving Gist your log-in credentials. It checks in once a day, syncs up with the last 90 days of your in-box, then figures out the value of each one of your contacts by past correspondence.

Gist sorts out all my contacts to tell me who it believes to be the most important of the bunch. If I think it got it wrong, I can simply adjust the slider, and the list gets reordered. CNET Networks

It's not a perfect system, as illustrated by the fact that it rated my boss' boss a 1 out of 100, but people with whom I regularly corresponded got high marks. Luckily, users can adjust the values that Gist has guessed to get it right.

"We believe that the algorithms can do a strong amount of the work, but ultimately, users generate that system," Gist founder T.A. McCann told me. Gist keeps two scores on each individual, one made by the user and one automatically generated by the system. McCann says the one created by the algorithm changes depending on your correspondence habits, so over time, the values should get more and more accurate.

Any links from your e-mails are gathered by Gist too. CNET Networks

In addition to tracking people, Gist tracks companies. If you've got it hooked up to a work account where you're corresponding with people from different companies, it will give you a breakdown of each one, using data it pulls in from Dow Jones. This includes a news feed of related Internet news stories based on keyword. Likewise, it will cross-reference and list any other contacts you're e-mailing at that company.

For those using Gist with Outlook, McCann says the plug-in Gist has developed is super lightweight and will not slow the program down. Instead of doing the heavy lifting in the background, it will tap only into given messages when you click it on from Outlook's toolbar. It then opens up any information related to that contact or e-mail thread, using a small borderless browser window, which can be dismissed in an instant.

McCann hopes to get Gist into public beta by this summer, alongside an iPhone application that will let users tap into all their data when away from their machine. The service is in a free private beta test version right now, but McCann says it is looking at going with a monthly subscription that throws in some advanced features to paying customers.